Stories have been created and told at Raby for centuries and through the ages our magnificent Castle has been home and host to families and friends, knights and politicians, plotters and pacifists and artists and influencers.

During lockdown we invited our 21st Century visitors to use their imagination to create their own stories, inspired by the grand fortification that has been part of the local landscape for almost 1000 years.

Our staff and volunteers have been overwhelmed by the talent and creativity of all those who entered. We have been fascinated by the intriguing tales and mysteries that have been submitted and have enjoyed reading every single one.

Judging so many excellent entries was no easy task and we would like to congratulate everyone who took part.

The top three entries in each category have been published on our website and you can read their short stories by clicking the links below.

Thank you to everyone who took part and well done to our winners!

Raby Short Story Competition Winners 2020

Age 18 and over Category


The Painting by Stephen Murphy

Runners up

Invisible Hands by Laura  Burdon

Brew Me A Dream by Bridget Lowery

Age 12-17 Category


Hunted by Bella Deacon

Runners up

Dinner with a Song Thrush by Jessica Bellas Carter

The Lost Girl by Amber Nair

Age 7-11 Category


Grandiflax of Raby Castle by Georgina Ellis

Runners up

The Dragon Egg by Eve Wake

The Ghost of Raby Castle by Pippa McGonigal







 “One feels as if these forked cliffs of stone had something of the solemnity of a mountain top, in remembering the hundreds of years they have towered above the country, and stood unshaken as the wind howled and raved around them”.

Handbook for Raby Castle, 4th Duchess of Cleveland (1870)  

For many visitors one of the most memorable features of a visit to Raby Castle is the impressive series of towers. To celebrate this impressive aspect, the Raby Castle Team have created a new outdoor tour of the medieval architecture, with a focus on the nine magnificent towers.  

Fulfilling a combined purpose of accommodation and defence, most of the towers have stood since the 14th century and give Raby its unique character. We take a closer look at this feature of the castle architecture and delve into some of the lesser known facts about these impressive structures.

Raby Castle is one of the largest and most intact medieval castles in County Durham. Once a fortified seat of the Nevill family, since 1626 it has been the home of the Vane family, the most recent of which is the current owner, the Twelfth Lord Barnard.

Before the Norman Conquest, the site on which Raby Castle now stands was part of Staindropshire; land holdings in the possession of King Canute which he gifted to the priory of Durham. It is likely that the castle’s Entrance Hall sits on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon Hall, from which the building developed with eventual fortification in the 14th century.

Between the 13th and 17th centuries, royal permission was required to fortify a manor house and turn it into a castle. Raby’s ‘License to Crenelate’ was granted in 1378 but as the land fell within the Palatinate of Durham, it was granted by Bishop Hatfield rather than the monarch. The license acknowledged both the status of the family and the fortification of the building and much of the 14th century structure is still evident.

Today’s visitors enter through the gatehouse where they are met by the impressive sight of Clifford’s Tower. The tallest and largest of Raby’s 9 towers, it stands at an impressive 24m (80ft) high.  If the gatehouse was breached during an assault on the castle, Clifford’s Tower was the next point of defence; its 3m thick walls were built to withstand attack.  The naming of the tower likely originates with a strategic marriage, when in the latter half of the 14th century Euphemia Nevill of Raby married Robert Clifford of the influential Yorkshire family (who give their name to another Clifford’s Tower in the centre of York).

The next tower along the north side of the castle is the Kitchen Tower, originally built in 1360 and used daily up to the 1950s. It was originally detached from the castle interior as a precaution against the spread of fire.  Within the walls of the Kitchen Tower, about 4.5m above floor level is a cut passage-way with openings at regular intervals, a platform through which the castle could be defended. The original arrow slits were enlarged in the 17th century to form the windows that are in-situ today and were no doubt a godsend to the cooks.

The kitchen is a good point at which to think about the people who built Raby Castle. Whilst the Nevill family held the purse-strings, the development owes much of its character to the 14th century Master-Mason John Lewyn. The architectural historian Malcolm Hislop has charted Lewyns influence on monumental architecture across the north-east of England and beyond.  Today, Lewyn’s LinkedIn profile would read ‘Architect’, but when Lewyn was professionally active in the latter half of the 14th century, his role probably combined elements of engineer, draftsman, mason, project manager and surveyor. At Raby, his work included fortifications and towers, including the kitchen and chapel. The granting of the License to Crenelate in 1378 probably marked the completion of his work.

The Kitchen Tower at Raby is characteristic of Lewyns style. There are similarities with the Great Kitchen of Durham Cathedral, which was built between 1367-74 when Lewyn was principal mason to the Bishop of Durham. From the outside, the kitchen tower resembles many of Lewyn’s other towers at Raby; plain and square in shape, with neat blocks of stone that are stepped in at different levels. Writing in her Handbook for Raby Castle in 1870, the 4th Duchess of Cleveland wrote of the towers built by Lewyn,

 “Nor is there a trace of ornament to be found anywhere; as if the builders, in their stern purpose, disdained all that was not intended for use, and the severe simplicity of their work certainly shows no striving for picturesque effect”.

Journeying on from the Kitchen Tower, on the north-east corner is the tower known as Mount Raskelf, whose name comes from lands held by the Nevill family in North Yorkshire. Almost certainly one of John Lewyn’s designs,  possibly build on an earlier foundation, this tower features architectural elements that he would go on to develop in other projects, including corner turrets known as ‘bartisans’, supported by ‘squinches’ or corner arches that join perpendicular sections of wall.

In the centre of the eastern side of the castle lies the Chapel Tower; created by Lewyn to house the chapel and a guard room as well as a fortified gateway or Barbican. The Chapel Tower was altered in the 18th century when the barbican was demolished to provide a new route for carriages through the entrance hall. The structure can be seen on early 18th century engravings of the castle which show other characteristic features of Lewyn’s work in situ,  including the life-sized stone figures (known as defenders), similar to those at Alnwick Castle and removed at Raby to the Gatehouse. There may have been further similarities with Alnwick Castle’s impressive barbican which is decorated with a carving of the Percy Lion, as Raby’s featured the Raby Bull.

Tower number 5 is Bulmer’s Tower. Named after Bertram de Bulmer, the influential grandfather of the Norman heiress Isabella de Nevill who married Raby’s Saxon owner, Robert FitzMaldred in the late 12th century. Towards the top of the tower, a lower-case letter ‘b’ for Bulmer, features on the outward facing facades.  Bulmers Tower once stood isolated from the castle and is the only tower at Raby built of millstone grit. It has an unusual five-sided plan, unlike Lewyns square towers, which has been compared to similar five-sided towers in Denmark.

Passing along the southern side of the castle, Joan’s Tower in the south-west corner is named after Joan Beaufort, the daughter of John of Gaunt who married Ralph de Nevill of Raby in 1396. Half- sister to Henry IV and grandmother to Edward IV and Richard III, it is through Joan that a line to the current Royal family can be traced.  On the warmer south side of the castle, Joan’s Tower has provided accommodation into the 21st century, and centuries of enlargements and internal alterations chart the challenges of adapting a 14th century building for modern life.

The interior of the castle is accessed on the west side through the Nevill Gateway. This impressive tower contains a beautifully vaulted fortified gateway which would have included an inner and outer gate, as well as a portcullis. Machicolations or murder-holes can be seen here (as elsewhere on the castle perimeter) as a further defence against attackers. The three shields that can be seen on the Nevill Gateway (Nevill, St George and Latimer shields) are each surrounded by the ribbon of the Order of the Garter which Lord Nevill received in 1369, only 21 years after it’s creation.

To the right, the Watch Tower – our eighth tower – incorporates two small guard rooms opening onto the roof. Beyond this is servant’s hall, once the site of the garrison. It is here that the walls are strongest, being in places no less than 6m/20 ft thick.

At the heart of the castle interior lies The Keep, our final tower. Heavily defended by the exterior fortifications, The Keep was the site of domestic accommodation and facilities, including the castle’s well. Under siege, control of the water supply was critical for survival and the defences that protect this important tower is a final reminder of the dual purpose of all the towers as both fortification and living space.

The towers feature in a new outdoor Towers and Terrace Tour at Raby Castle.

For details of this and future tours exploring the history, architecture and art of Raby Castle, subscribe to our free newsletter at https://www.raby.co.uk/about-us/newsletter/


A Guide to the Towers

Clifford’s Tower, 24m (80 feet)

Kitchen Tower, 23.5m (77 feet 8 inches)

Mount Raskelf, 21.4m (70 feet 3 inches)

Chapel Tower, 22.3m (73 feet 3 inches)

Bulmer’s Tower, 23.3m (76 feet 6 inches)

Nevill Tower, 19.05m (62 feet 6 inches)

Watch Tower, 23m (75 feet 9 inches)

Keep, 19.8m (65 feet);

Joan’s Tower, 18.74m (61 feet 6 inches)


“Yet every painter’s eye must love the unsought combinations of light and shade in these great square masses of grey stone – ‘hillocks of stone’ – clustered irregularly together, with their deep angles and recesses, and the tapering watch-towers above.  Seen at a little distance from the north, they produce a really magnificent sky-line towards the west, especially when the long range of ‘battled towers’ stands out in relief against a real winter sunset”.

Handbook for Raby Castle, Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina, 4th Duchess of Cleveland (1870)  


Further reading:

Raby Castle Guidebook

Castle Builders; Approaches to castle design and construction in the Middle Age; Malcolm Hislop, Pen & Sword Books, 2016

How to read a Country House: Jeremy Musson in association with Country Life Ebury Press, 2005

The Buildings of England, County Durham;  Nikolaus Pevsner, updated by Martin Roberts. Pending publication.

Sophie joined the Leisure and Tourism team in December 2019, during our incredibly busy festive season. We caught up with her to find out how she has been settling in, and what her first six months with Raby has been like.

Where did your career take you before you joined Raby?

I joined the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOCOG) in 2011 and went on to travel working on sporting events such as the Rio 2016 Olympic games and Commonwealth Games both in Glasgow (2014) and Gold Coast (2018). After 8 years travelling, I felt it was time to come home to County Durham. I’m delighted to be able to use my extensive events experience right here in County Durham in my new role at Raby.

You joined Raby at one of the busiest times of the year – what were your first impressions?

I think people have the impression that Raby is a bit of a sleeping giant whereas the reality is it is an incredibly vibrant and exciting place to work. There is always something different going on across the Estate, and so much goes on behind the scenes to deliver the incredible variety of events that happen throughout the year.

Starting at Christmas was a really good thing – I got stuck in straight away and it meant I got to know the rest of the team very quickly. It is such a busy time of year – but I thrive on being busy! I adore Christmas – it is such a magical time, especially at Raby. I loved being part of our Fireside Stories experience and seeing the faces of our visitors as they met Father Christmas in the Grand Entrance Hall. We’ve been busy making preparations for Christmas during lockdown, and hope to be able to offer some really special experiences this year.

What has surprised you most about working at Raby?

Probably the variety of events I get to work on – it’s fantastic getting to work on so many different types of events; one day it could be a stargazing event at High Force, or a children’s activity trail, the next it could be an Italian car show at Raby Castle, a new special interest tour or a huge sporting event. So many of our events require input from different teams across the Estate – whether it’s the garden team or the forestry team, the sporting team or colleagues in the Estate office – delivering a fantastic visitor experience is very much a team effort.

I also love discovering more about the place where I work – I am incredibly lucky to based at the Castle and am fascinated by its incredibly rich history.  With over 120 rooms to explore, Im discovering something new every week!

Earlier this year I was involved with a new tour ‘The Women of Raby’ – which was fascinating. I’m looking forward to running more events like this in the future and sharing more of the untold stories of the Castle and its inhabitants.

What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on events at Raby?

There is always so much to see and do at Raby, and we started 2020 with a jam-packed events calendar which had to put on hold in March when lockdown began.

As we have gradually reopened to the public we’ve been following government guidance and it’s great that we are now able to resume some of our events activity. Visitor and staff safety is our priority so we’ll be focusing on outdoor activities, and new experiences for our visitors. We’ve been opening the Park and Gardens for our series of Summer Late evenings which have been fantastic – such a lovely relaxed atmosphere, and I’ve been blown away by the lovely comments we’ve had from visitors.

I’m really excited about the activities we’ve got lined up for the rest of the Summer, especially our very exclusive yoga and wellbeing sessions in the garden. I’ve also had a sneak preview of the new Terrace and Towers tours which is just fascinating – visitors are in for a treat!

What do you enjoy most about working at Raby?

The fact that I get to work in a Castle – I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of my walk into work! I also enjoy working with the people here at Raby, we all support each other – it’s great to be part of such a close-knit and proactive team. Despite recent events, I really feel that I have joined Raby at a very exciting time, and I am looking forward to watching it develop as a tourism destination.

To find out what’s happening at Raby visit out What’s On page. If you would like to be the first to hear about upcoming news and events sign up to our newsletter

Raby Castle’s magnificent Walled Gardens are a peaceful haven for Raby’s visitors as they amble along its well-kept paths, watch the butterflies and bees busy in the borders, listen to the melodic birdsong and take in some remarkable panoramas across the Castle and Deer Park.

The ambience is always restful yet is constantly changing through the seasons, particularly in the vibrant Spring and Summer months when the colours and vistas alter almost on a daily basis.

Throughout lockdown our garden team worked hard to keep the gardens looking their best, ready for visitors to enjoy. We hope those of you who have not yet been able to visit us since we reopened will enjoy this video tour which gives a fabulous bird’s eye view of our gloriously peaceful gardens.

The History of the Gardens

The gardens at Raby date back to the Middle Ages when the plants grown here would have provided food for cooking and medicines for treating common ailments. A formal garden was established much later, in the mid 18th century.

Our committed gardeners nurture every plant and take great care to maintain the historic features of the Gardens. The walls were all built using locally sourced hand-made bricks and remain a key feature of the Gardens, along with the two fine old yew hedges and ornamental pond. Other features include the Conservatory, rose gardens, formal lawns and informal heather and conifer garden.

Look out for the White Ischia Fig, brought to Raby in 1786, which still survives in its specially built house and bears fruit every year.

The East Garden contains the main herbaceous border and various species of tree within the lawns, including a Tulip tree. In the summer months the spectacular rambling Wedding Day Rose, with its large clusters of creamy white roses, is in full bloom.

The Walled Gardens are open seasonally and our Annual Pass holders often tell us how much they appreciate being able to visit on a regular basis so that they can see the seasons change.

With plenty of places to sit and relax and lots of space to enjoy a socially distanced walk with family or friends, we look forward to welcoming you soon.

The Walled Gardens and Deer Park are open daily from 10am to 4pm. During the summer months we hold occasional Summer Lates, when the Park and Gardens open in the evenings, with candlelight and soft music in the Walled Gardens. Find out more about Summer Lates.

Our next Summer Late in the Park and Gardens will be held on Saturday 11th July from 6pm to 10.30pm. Tickets are limited. Book now.


Back in the 1600’s a young and adventurous Henry Vane, ancestor of Raby Castle’s current Lord Barnard, emigrated to join the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Our curator Julie Biddlecombe-Brown reveals who he was, why he went and what happened next.

First, a bit of background about the Vane family at the time

In 1626 Henry Vane the Elder, MP and official in the Royal Household, bought Raby Castle for the princely sum of £18,000.  His marriage to Frances Darcy brought the wealth that secured his rise in Court and should have guaranteed a life of relative ease for their children. This was not to be for his first-born.

Henry Vane the Younger had a remarkable life and witnessed events that shaped nations and the world. His life ended in the Tower of London in 1662, described by Charles II as “…too dangerous a man to let live …”.

We’re going to explore the life of the twenty-something Henry, in Puritan New England, and how his legacy can still be seen today  

Henry Vane the Younger was born in Essex in 1613, the eldest of eleven children. Less than one hundred years after the break from Rome, the early 17th century was a time of religious turmoil. Henry was a man of strong religious convictions and by his mid-teens he had made the conscious decision that his faith would play a central part in his life; following his conscience and devotion to God.

After completing his education at Magdalen College, Oxford, he travelled in Europe, where he visited the intellectual Protestant hubs of Geneva and Leiden.  His travels continued during his late teens as an aide to the Ambassador at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II. On his return to England his prospects seemed bright and it appeared certain that he would follow his father’s career in the royal household. But the young Henry had other plans.

So, what inspired him to make his long and dangerous Trans-Atlantic journey?

He had never lost the spiritual resolve of his earlier teenage years and became increasingly disillusioned with what he viewed as the restrictive ceremonies and practices of the Church of England. Henry looked to the Puritan colonies of the New World as a kind of utopia. Here, he believed he would be surrounded by people who had committed to create the kind of world he aspired to; people with similar beliefs and values.  So, in 1635, at the age of 22, with his father’s eventual blessing and a three-year release from court from the King, he emigrated to New England.

Was it everything he expected it to be?

Young Henry arrived in Boston, Massachusetts on 6 October 1635, one of an estimated 20,000 English people believed to have emigrated to New England in the 1630s. He found a community that was developing rapidly and a mixture of settlers, from devout Puritans to commercial entrepreneurs.  Governance centred around the church and strict Puritan ideals that occasionally clashed with the commercial activity of the new colony. Henry was made welcome; his background and strong convictions held him in good stead, as did his advantageous connections back in England. He quickly settled into Boston life where his social rank and experience of diplomacy were put to use in in resolving disputes and supporting the governance of a growing community. Within a few months he became a freeman of the Massachusetts Corporation; perhaps more surprisingly, he was elected as Governor in May 1636 at the tender age of 23; the highest office in the colony.

Henry quickly established himself as a leader …

The Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was elected annually, and Henry set out to use his diplomatic and administrative experience to create new laws and resolve disputes amongst the colonists. During his short time as Governor, legislation was passed to establish a higher education college in the colony; an institution that would later be named after the wealthy clergyman and benefactor, John Harvard.

…although it wasn’t all plain sailing

But Henry’s passionate conviction (probably combined with his youth and inexperience) resulted in a very challenging term as Governor. Tensions were quickly escalating with the local Native American population for whom the impact of the arrival of the European colonists had many devastating consequences. Within the colony the harmonious Puritan utopia that he had dreamed of was becoming fragmented. The relationship became strained between some of the more orthodox members of the community (characterised by Henry’s deputy, John Winthrop), and others who supported greater religious freedoms, including Henry himself.

 He made friends with people who held “dangerous opinions”

Two of Henry’s close acquaintances from his short time in Massachusetts provide an insight into Henry’s beliefs and personality. Both Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson are important, yet controversial figures in the complex history of early English settlement in the New World.  Their own stories are fascinating but here we look at their relationship with the young Governor.

Roger Williams was an English clergyman with a firm belief in religious freedom. He was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 for spreading  “new & dangerous opinions”, including a  belief that church and state governance should be kept separate, and for his disapproval of colonists who confiscated land from Native Americans. On leaving Massachusetts, he purchased land from the Narragansett people to establish the Rhode Island Colony, based on principals of religious tolerance. Ten years Henry’s senior, Williams’ conscience-led decisions clearly appealed to the young governor who supported him both in the New World and, later, back in England.

Anne Hutchinson became synonymous with a group known as the Antinomian Party. Her lifelong commitment to the Puritan cause and radical ideas meant that when she arrived in New England she began to push boundaries. Contrary to the norm, she led a Bible Study Group – sometime attracting as many as 80 people, in an age in which women were not permitted to take leadership roles. Her classes were perceived as a threat to some of the more orthodox factions of the colony who feared religious separatism. Henry is known to have attended her groups, no doubt attracted once more by the ideals of religious freedom.

However, Henry was an idealist and his days in New England were numbered

This was a step too far for many in the community who regarded his actions as compromising the position of the Governor. It was one dispute that Henry was unable to resolve and he was pressured to make a choice between his position and his ideals. Unsurprisingly his ideals won out; he attempted to resign as Governor, initially citing pressure to return to England before admitting the conflict between his political and spiritual life. He was persuaded to finish his term, but his former deputy, John Winthrop was elected for the year ahead. Anne was banished from Massachusetts and along with around 30 other families followed Roger Williams to the Rhode Island Colony.

Henry left Massachusetts for England three months later, but not before finally opposing the new Governor ‘s legislation to exclude settlers like his friends who were said to hold ‘dangerous opinions’. His time in New England taught Henry valuable lessons and despite remaining a man of strong conviction, in his later life he attempted to focus on politics rather than spirituality in his public life.

The story of Henry’s later years back in England is equally fascinating, but we will save that for another day

One final note relates to an intriguing item in the castle collections, dating from this period. Pictured here, this little volume titled THE LAWES, RESOLUTIONS OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS OR The Women’s Lawyer.  It was printed in London in 1632 and is the first work devoted exclusively to laws relating to women. It covers diverse topics from marriage to land ownership, wooing to widowhood. We don’t know when the book came to Raby Castle but it is interesting to speculate as to whether it, along with other radical 17th century pamphlets, might have belonged to, or have been read by Henry and in this case,  how much his encounter with Anne Hutchinson in the New World might have kindled an interest in the law and the position of women in particular.

Julie Biddlecombe-Brown

Sources and further reading:

  • Sikes, G., The Life & Death of Sir Henry Vane Kt. 1662
  • A Vindication of that Prudent and Honourable Knight, Sir Henry Vane. London: 1659
  • Hosmer, James K. Sir Henry Vane.  London: 1888
  • Mayers, Ruth E. Vane, Sir Henry the Younger. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, May 2015
  • N. E. Adamova, S. V. Shershneva, Discourse of early migration to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 2017


Sir Henry Vane the Younger. Oil on Canvas. School of Robert Walker (1599-1658) ©Raby Estate


Sir Henry Vane the Younger, commemorated in a statue of 1893 in Boston Public Library. The inscription quotes John Winthrop, who despite their differences describes Henry as “a true friend of New England and a man of noble and generous mind”.


The Lawes, Resolutions of Women’s Rights, or The Women’s Lawyer. London 1632 ©Raby Estate

If you enjoyed this fascinating story from Raby’s past, check out our recent blog on the Grand Entrance Hall at Raby Castle for the Historic Houses Feature Friday campaign.


Raby Castle and High Force Hotel have become among the first tourism venues in the region to receive the Good to Go certification from Visit England in recognition of the measures we have taken to meet government and industry COVID-19 guidelines.

Raby and High Force have been reopening gradually as government advice has been updated during the easing of lockdown, completing comprehensive risk assessments, and putting measures in place to maintain cleanliness and support social distancing.

Our open spaces a Raby Castle and High Force Waterfall were the first to reopen as restrictions eased, with pre-booked visitors returning to enjoy the beautiful summer colour in the Walled Gardens and the far-reaching views in the Deer Park, along with a carefully managed circular walk to the Waterfall at High Force.

The Castle, Stables Café and Woodland Play Area and High Force Hotel reopened on July 4th following further updated guidance. Some facilities will open in a limited capacity and visitors are advised to check the Raby website for the latest information about what’s open.

Claire Jones, Head of Leisure and Tourism at Raby Estates said: “We have taken a very careful, phased approach to reopening our facilities and we are delighted to have received the Good To Go certification, which reflects the work we have done to meet COVID-19 guidelines.

“We want visitors to feel confident about visiting Raby and High Force, and sharing information about the precautions we have taken, so that people know what to expect before they arrive, has been incredibly important.

“Feedback from visitors about how we have reopened, and the information we have shared has been overwhelmingly positive, and it is lovely to see people enjoying our open spaces and beautiful views once again.

You can find out more about the measures we have put in place on the Coronavirus pages on our website, which also include answers to Frequently Asked Questions and a video guide to how we are managing cleanliness and social distancing.

A heady combination of sultry summer weather, lavish garden borders and the welcome reopening of our open spaces following lockdown has brought an incredible response from visitors who enjoyed our two special evening openings of the Park and Gardens in late June.

Photo credit: David Dodds Photography

People of all ages, including young families meeting relatives for the first time since March, and others who had not left their homes for many months, enjoyed social distanced walks in the expansive grounds of the Castle.

Photo credit: David Dodds Photography

Soft music inspired by the natural surroundings, summer scented incense and glowing storm candles in the Walled Gardens created a sense of calm during the two evenings, the first of which was held to mark the Summer Solstice.

A spectacular seasonal floral wreath provided the perfect photo backdrop in the Walled Gardens, and children enjoyed dancing under the ribbons of the wishing tree.  The glorious open space in the Deer Park gave visitors ample room to sit and watch the sun go down over the Castle and to savour the tranquillity of the evening.

Floral wreath by Berry House Flowers

Sophie Brown, from the Raby events team, said she had been overwhelmed by the positive feedback from visitors both during and after the two evening openings.

“The atmosphere was incredibly relaxing and many of the people who came were visiting Raby for the first time, so it was wonderful for them to experience its space and beauty on a summer’s evening,” she said.

“Throughout both evenings, visitors took time to tell us how safe they felt and how much they appreciated having somewhere to come that was so peaceful and special, particularly those who were coming to meet relatives for the first time since lockdown,” she added.

Photo credit: David Grey

The two open evenings were also a fabulous opportunity for photographers to capture the beauty of the park and garden. Here are just some of the amazing images and wonderful comments we have received since the Summer Solstice and Evening in the Park, all of which have been so appreciated by our small and hard-working team:

“We would just like to express our thanks to you for having the vision to open the castle grounds and gardens on Saturday evening.”

“We did not really know what to expect but we had a most enjoyable time and made the most of a beautiful evening in wonderful surroundings.”

“It was so good to be among people after the past 3 months of lockdown and it was noticeable that others were feeling the same. It was particularly pleasing to see families with young children picnicking and enjoying the freedom that the parkland offered.”

“I would like to thank you for the wonderful Summer Solstice Evening we enjoyed in Saturday! The walled garden looked stunning and the music playing was perfect for the occasion.”

“We had an amazing evening on Saturday, thank you so much for opening. So much space and such a tranquil experience. Highly recommended.”

“Thoroughly enjoyed it, had a wonderful night. Really enjoyed the music in the gardens.”

“Absolutely superb evening – thank you! Well organised and very peaceful and relaxed.”

“We had a lovely evening last night. Thank you. It’s the 1st time my parents have been in a public space for over 3 months and they absolutely loved it. A great Father’s Day present. I can’t tell you how much it meant to us as a family as they got to spend some time with their grandson. It was perfect.”

“We had such an amazing evening last night. Can’t recommend it highly enough! Was magical.”

“It really was a lovely night. The atmosphere was so calm and relaxed. It was lovely seeing everyone having a lovely time.”

“A fabulous evening tonight at Raby castle ….loved the extra little touches like the candles and incense in the walled garden along with the music …will come again to an evening walk in the castle grounds ….Thankyou.”

“We really enjoyed our evening visit for the Summer Solstice. It was such a lovely atmosphere; so calm and peaceful. The gardens were beautiful and looked lovely at dusk. The evening was so well organised and it was clear that visitor safety was paramount. Visitor numbers were limited, car parking was really well spaced out and toilets were spotlessly clean. After 3 months of lockdown this was greatly appreciated! Thank you!”

We hope to open for further ‘Summer Lates’ throughout July and August, and will be keeping a close eye on the weather forecast.

To be the first to hear about future Evenings in the Park sign up to our newsletter.

We are delighted to be involved in a fantastic initiative by Historic Houses which is showcasing some of the intriguing features of the nation’s heritage properties.

Feature Fridays takes a different theme each week and explores some of the unique characteristics of buildings up and down the country, along with the fascinating stories behind them.

We have been following the themes and sharing relevant stories and images from Raby Castle, which have been enjoyed by Historic Houses members and followers nationwide.

Here are just some of the Feature Fridays we have been involved in:

Entrances and Exits

The Entrance Hall at Raby Castle was adapted by architect John Carr for the 2nd Earl of Darlington to celebrate the coming-of-age of his heir in 1787. The transformative scheme made it possible for carriages to drive straight through the hall, eliminating the need to turn in the courtyard. This provided an impressive welcome for visitors – and a swift escape from the often inclement weather of the North East! Find out more about the entrance here.


The ‘Wheel of Weapons’ is an impressive display of muskets and other historic firearms in the Entrance Hall at Raby Castle in County Durham. The wheel has been a feature in the Entrance Hall for over a century and is always a talking point for our visitors.

Read more about Weapons at various Historic Houses across the country here.


Hidden in North Wood, in an area not open to the public, the Gateway Folly at Raby Castle is a Grade II listed building. In 1780, the architect John Carr of York was commissioned by the 2nd Duke of Cleveland to make a number of alterations to the castle, including the creation of a drive-through carriageway through the Entrance Hall.

This project involved the demolition of the medieval barbican on the south side of the castle. Elements of the Barbican can still be found in buildings across Raby Park, including the North Wood Folly. Described by a contemporary source in the Raby archives as “a design for a ruined gateway with lodges”, Carr built this curious structure as a screen and incorporated the archway and other fragments of the Barbican in his design.

Read more about Follies at Historic Houses.

Keep an eye out for more fascinating stories like these by following #FeatureFridays and Historic Houses on social media.

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Throughout April and May we have been inviting families to recreate their memories of Raby Castle and High Force Waterfall for our art competition.

We have had some fantastic entries and it has been wonderful to see so much creativity and to hear about the fun everyone has been having crafting, painting and model making.

Raby Castle and High Force Waterfall have been the subject of many famous paintings over the years and we are delighted to have a new selection of masterpieces to share.

We will be announcing the winners soon on our social media channels.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy looking through them as much as we have!


County Durham is home to many magnificent Castles, including Barnard Castle and Raby Castle, which are just a stones throw from one another.

Perched above the river Tees, the remains of the once imposing Barnard Castle, found in the Teesdale market town of the same name, can be seen from the riverbank.

Just a few miles away in Staindrop, is the magnificent Raby Castle, a popular visitor attraction, with extensive walled gardens and deer park. Impressive in their own right, there is much that links these two sites.

Barnard Castle, was built by the Balliol family who were given the land during the upheaval following the Norman Conquest. The castle had a succession of owners before passing into the hands of the Nevill family by marriage in the 15th century. The powerful Nevill family owned nearby Raby Castle among other vast properties and estates. With only seven miles between the two castles, both sites feature prominently in the story of the Wars of the Roses.

Richard Duke of Gloucester (who later became King Richard III) acquired the Lordship by marriage to Anne, the widow of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick (known as ‘the Kingmaker’). Richard had strong associations with County Durham and significant support in the north. His mother Cecily Nevill was born at Raby Castle, and his father Richard Duke of York was brought up there as a ward of the Earl of Westmorland. Barnard Castle became the favourite residence of Richard Duke of Gloucester who had planned to expand and develop the castle after becoming King. His plans never came to fruition as he was killed at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Along with Raby Castle, Barnard Castle remained under the ownership of the Nevill family until 1569 when their lands and property were confiscated by the Crown after the failed ‘Rising of the North’; a plot to dethrone the protestant Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with her Roman Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. Both castles remained the property of the Crown until they were sold to the courtier and MP, Sir Henry Vane the Elder in 1626. After this time, Barnard Castle, was gradually abandoned as a residence.

Raby Castle is one of the most intact castles in the North of England. Its completeness is of national significance as a largely single-phase structure, with one twelfth century survival (Bulmer’s Tower). Some of the stonework from Barnard Castle is thought to have been re-used in alterations and extensions at Raby. Writing in 1870 the Duchess of Cleveland’s Handbook for Raby Castle notes that an old inventory taken in 1593, describes Barnard Castle as “… bare of all furniture, and some of the locks of the doors carried away to Raby”. It would be fascinating to research whether these glimpses of Barnard Castle incorporated in Raby Castle can be traced.

The collections at Raby Castle also show many links with Barnard Castle. This little watercolour of Barnard Castle by an unknown artist shows the charming views of Barnard Castle that can be seen from the riverside, giving a sense of how impressive the original structure would have been.

The painting is displayed in one of the rooms at Raby Castle that visitors can experience as part of the ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour. Although the castle is currently closed, we look forward to welcoming visitors to find out more about the links between the two castles when we reopen to the public.

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We are OPEN! We are following the latest government guidance to keep our visitors, staff and volunteers safe. Click HERE to read our latest update.